La Bella Venezia

Yesterday we returned from a week in Venice. Yes, that’s right, a full week in the place most people visit for two or three days at most, pausing only long enough to tick off the main sites (Rialto, St. Mark’s Square) and do the main tourist attractions (gondola ride, selfie in front of the Bridge of Sighs). But if you take the time to spend longer than the average tourist in this amazing place, you will really reap the benefits.

Besides being beautiful, with its labyrinth of canals, colourful buildings, lively squares and narrow passageways, Venice is steeped in history. One only has to stick their head into the stunning Frari Church or Scuolo Grande di San Rocco to get a flavour of what the city has to offer. And it doesn’t stop there. The different areas all have their own unique charm, from San Polo (where we rented a lovely Airbnb property and found a gorgeous sandwich shop/bar which we frequented for a beer and glass of Prosecco most evenings) to Castello (where we returned to a wonderful restaurant near to the famous Arsenale – former ship yard and armoury – where we dined on our honeymoon last year) to the Jewish Ghetto and Giudecca, which both have a completely different, but no less charming, vibe compared to the other parts of the city.

This year, the Venice Biennale festival includes modern art, with a huge display of artworks to explore in both the Arsenale and Giardini. A two day ticket costs only 25 Euros, which is well worth the money. There are also a huge number of other galleries and exhibitions (both permanent and temporary, to coincide with the Biennale) running across the city, including new exhibitions by Damien Hirst and David Hockney (neither of which we saw, sadly, as we ran out of time).

And then there is the beach. On my previous two trips to Venice, both less than three days in duration, I didn’t make it as far as the Lido. But with a few days more we were able to hop on the Vaporetto (water bus) and make the half hour journey on two occasions. It’s not the best beach in the world, and it is very busy during the summer, but there are still plenty of sun beds and umbrellas available to rent and it offers respite from the searing heat and busy streets in the city, when sightseeing gets too much.

I need not linger on the food (it goes without saying Italian food is divine); suffice to say if seafood and ice cream are your bag, you will not be disappointed in Venice. I’m pretty sure I’ve come back at least half a stone heavier, but I don’t regret a moment of it!

Advertisements

Don’t Forget to Look Up / Thinking Big

In a previous blog post many moons (and blogging sites and Internet galaxies) ago I wrote about an occasion when I was walking down Clapham High Street and it dawned on me that, prior to that moment, I had never along that road raised my eyes upwards – to look above the shops and restaurants I was walking past, to notice the tops of the buildings, the art deco flats, the various architectural accomplishments (and, indeed, failures), to simply get a peep inside the windows through which so many simultaneous lives were being lived out above the level of the ground floor.

The point of my sharing that anecdote is that so many of us go through life with blinkers on, failing to see so many of the things that are staring us right in the face. We follow the pattern of getting up, taking the tube to work, trawling through our to do lists with barely a break for breath, let alone lunch. Then, at the end of the day, we drag our weary work-beaten selves to our homes or – if we can muster the energy – to the gym or to the pub where we can re-energise or socialise and temporarily forget that the inescapable cycle will resume again in just a few hours’ time. We are, in short, slaves to our routines, and so rarely take the time or trouble to break from them each day for just a moment to re-engage with the world around us.

On that note, I’m currently reading (or, to be more precise, dipping in and out of) The Artist’s Way, a self-help book by American Julia Cameron written way back in 1992 that promises to help the reader creatively unblock themselves. Whilst some of the book is a bit too spiritually far out for me, one thing I love is the concept of taking time out of the routine each week for an ‘artist date’ – some quality time with yourself and your imagination doing something out of the ordinary. This, Cameron says, is how we artists can fill up the creative wells within us, that are depleted by the daily monotony of our lives.

In light of all of the above today, therefore, I took myself off for a wander down to Borough Market during my lunch break (I’m ashamed to admit it was the first time I’ve done this in a year of working in London Bridge). The moment I arrived my senses were assaulted with a vast array of sights, sounds and smells. I happily snapped away with my camera before settling on a wall in the garden beside Southwark Cathedral to eat a vegetable thali and watch the world go by. I hadn’t been there long when I spotted a woman in a long trench coat wearing a fake pair of glasses with a plastic nose attached. She was standing at the gate pretending to read a newspaper, whilst casting furtive glances all around. No sooner had I approached to take a picture than she was off, disappearing through the gate into the market. But not before I caught this shot of her.

Whether that display was art or madness I’ll never know, but what I do know is this: I’m so glad I went on my artist date today, and so grateful for all that I saw and did there. As a good friend recently said to me: “You’re only as big as the picture you’re in.”  So why not make it bigger?

image

The write read

It’s a well-known fact that, for the most part, writing doesn’t pay. Or at least it doesn’t pay until you make it big, though you might be surprised by how few authors ever reach the heady heights of JK Rowling’s wealth, despite being on the best seller lists for weeks on end.

So what do aspiring writers do to make ends meet? Some sacrifice luxury and get a part time job in a cafe, devoting the rest of their time to writing in the hope they’ll have that much needed break and be catapulted out of their Hackney bedsit into a Hollywood condo.

Others, like myself, who have fallen into a relatively comfortable way of living and aren’t keen to suffer for their art to quite the extent of living below the poverty line, get a full time job. Days, therefore, are spent in an office, doing someone else’s bidding for eight hours or more at a time, and nights are spent trying to fit writing in amongst the other many competing priorities.

But I’m not complaining, and nor should anyone who is serious about making it as a writer, because if writing is your passion it shouldn’t be difficult to make time for it. What can be a problem for the aspiring writer, however, is what they choose to sacrifice to make time for their writing. In my case, I’ve realised that what’s all too often being sacrificed is reading.

I take my Kindle to work every day, but on the journey there often struggle not to be distracted by the free newspapers. I therefore spend the duration engrossed in the latest drama in Rihanna’s love life instead of making a start on the latest Booker Prize-nominated tome I’ve downloaded.

Before conceiving my 365 day writing challenge I would at least spend the return journey reading a good book, but in recent weeks even those few precious snatched minutes have been compromised, as I’ve spent them drafting that day’s blog post. What this means is that although I am now (at long last) writing regularly, when it comes to reading I’m not getting much further than the odd sensationalist tabloid press story – hardly inspirational stuff.

What’s troubling me is this: How can I even hope to be a good writer if I’m not seeing how it’s done by learning from the best? To use an analogy, imagine trying to ride a bike without seeing someone else do it first. It’s not that you couldn’t do it – if you had instructions you’d get there in the end – but the whole experience would be harder, and you might not end up cycling to the best of your ability.

The realisation that I’m not reading enough has made me see I need to reassess my priorities again; rather than substituting reading for writing I must make time for both, or risk my writing being so badly compromised that the heady heights of JK Rowling will always remain out of reach.

Image

This little badge represents me having completed my fourth National Novel Writing Month. It serves as a reminder of how important writing is to me – perhaps in light of today’s post I need a similar talisman for reading?